HEAD COACH BILL BELICHICK
December 26, 2018
BB: OK, we’re on to the Jets here. It was good to have a nice break yesterday, but looking forward to a big matchup this week against New York, and certainly been impressive to watch since we played them. You know, [Sam] Darnold’s really played well. He’s got an excellent group of receivers, tight ends, backs to work with. Obviously, [Andre] Roberts leading the league in both punt and kickoff returns. He’s had an explosive year and did it again against the Packers last week. Defensively, again, a well-coached team, create a lot of problems with their pressure. The corners done a good job for them, good front, good front seven. So, this will be a big challenge for us. We’ll have to play better than we did in the last game. They’re definitely better than they were when we saw them, whatever it was, six weeks ago. So, it will be our challenge to improve and match up.
Q: What is it about Darnold that has stood out to you? It looked like last week was a really good week for him.
BB: Yeah, he’s had a couple of them now. Good decisions, accurate, probably better timing and execution in the passing game with his receivers, more yards, more touchdowns, fewer turnovers.
Q: How does he benefit from his release? It looks like he has a relatively quick release. Is the offense set up to allow him to do that?
BB: It’s West Coast-based, yeah, so it’s a lot of – yeah, that’s the offense.
Q: It seems like Chris Herndon has emerged for them in the last month or so. What about him makes him tough to cover?
BB: Yeah, he sure has. You know, he’s fast, he gets into the routes well, you can see his speed down the field. He’s moving about the same speed as the receivers are, so just on tape, he plays fast, good vertical player and gets across the field quickly on the over routes, things like that. So, yeah, it seems like there’s certainly chemistry developing between Darnold and Herndon.
Q: On the touchdown play to Robby Anderson on the left side of the field, Darnold might have used his eyes a little bit to look to the running back first in the flat and then hit Anderson. Is that something that he’s done repeatedly that you’ve seen or done more of lately?
BB: Are you talking about the first touchdown on the fake slip screen?
BB: I mean, he faked the slip screen out there – I think it was to [Quincy] Enunwa – and it was kind of a two-on-one fast break there, got to Anderson, Anderson cut it back. It was a well-designed play. They beat them on the fake slip screen and Anderson made a good run on it.
Q: In terms of the eye usage and being able to manipulate defenders, is that something you’ve noticed?
BB: Again, I wouldn’t say that’s really the heart of the offense. The essence of the offense is to have a lot of moving routes, get the ball quickly to a player on the move and let him run with it, whether it’s inside out, outside in, in the seam, backs. So, they don’t like to stand back there and work side-to-side on the field and spend all day in the pocket. I mean, that’s not really the way that offense is designed to run.
Q: You guys have either blocked or deflected three punts in the last three weeks. How much of a difference can those types of plays make in a game?
BB: Yeah, those are some big plays. So, yeah, we’ll see how it goes. We look for those opportunities every week – sometimes they’re there, sometimes they’re not, sometimes the opportunities are better to return. So, we’ll just see how it plays out.
Q: There was some dissatisfaction in the locker room in terms of how special teams had been playing earlier in the year. Have you seen, in all areas, improvement on that front?
BB: I mean, I think there’s room for more improvement. We’ll certainly get tested this week, so whatever it was or wasn’t in the past I don’t think really makes too much difference. We’re going up against the best return team in the league, so we’ll see where we are against Roberts. It’s not just him – I mean, obviously, they do a very good blocking. Their kickoff return scheme is good and punt returns, they do a good job of getting them started, they do a good job blocking, he does a good job running, he’s explosive, he’s fast. He doesn’t need much space – once he hits the seam, it’s all over. So, we’ll find out where we are this week.
Q: Even though he missed a few games in the middle of the season, is there value in going further back, even though it’s been a couple of months, to Darnold’s games in October and September?
BB: Yeah, we saw them all before we played them the first time.
Q: Understanding there’s been a few weeks that he’s played, but is it still relevant and do you put much weight in that?
BB: Well, again, we did that in the early part in the year, as we did everything else. There’s some relevance to it, but I think there’s more relevance in what’s been happening in more recent weeks. But, we did that in the first scouting report. Some of the guys we looked at played, some of them didn’t, some of the guys that we’re playing now didn’t play in the first game, so it’s the way it usually is. So, we’ve updated that, but yeah, I think what they’ve done recently is the most relevant.
Q: What do you attribute Sony Michel’s success to this year? He’s had some big production games in spurts. Obviously, he missed training camp and a few games here and there, but when he’s in there, he’s produced for you guys fairly regularly.
BB: Yeah, well, I mean, he’s a good back. He’s a good player, runs well, takes care of the ball, he’s tough, he’s got good playing strength, runs through some arm tackles. He’s still got a lot to learn, still a lot of things that he can work on, but he’s a tough kid, he’s smart, he works hard, he’s out there every day, so he keeps getting better. That’s a good thing.
Q: You’ve seen a lot of running backs go through that process, especially when they’re rookies. How long does it take a player to gain confidence in himself so that what he’s doing later in the season obviously shows an upward curve in what he’s able to accomplish?
BB: Yeah, that’s a tough question. I think each player’s different, each situation’s different. I don’t know if there’s one set standard. We have guys on our team at that position that didn’t play at all as rookies that have been very productive and good players for us. Other guys played as rookies and played less as it went along. So, I don’t know. Just keep grinding it out day by day, week by week and see where it goes. Just take it one day at a time.
Q: Dont’a Hightower has seemed pretty consistent all year. Was there a point in the season where he kind of hit his stride coming off of his injury last year?
BB: You know, he’s had a good year. He’s had a good spring, a good training camp. He missed the first Buffalo game, but he’s missed very few snaps all year in practice and in games. He plays in different packages and we haven’t put him out there for every snap, but he’s held up well and played well. I think he’s gotten in on a lot of plays in the running game, in the passing game, rushing the passer, some coverage plays, pursuit plays, things like that. So, yeah, he’s done a solid job for us.
Q: What stands out to you about J.C. Jackson’s year from where he was at the beginning of camp to where he is now?
BB: Just steady grinder, one day at a time, just trying to get better. If he makes mistakes, try to correct it. He works at it, usually shows some improvement in that area, go on to something else. But, his durability, his consistency and just being out there every day practicing, doing things, getting corrected, getting better, working on them the next day. I mean, that’s really how you improve. So, practicing and being durable and being consistent, it goes a long way.
Q: Tom Brady said in an interview this week that he plans to play beyond 2019. How valuable is that stability at the quarterback position to the organization?
BB: Yeah, well, I mean, right now I think it’s a one-game season here. So, we’ll just concentrate on the Jets and worry about next year, next year, worry about next week, next week, worry about last year some other year.
Q: With a victory this week, you clinch a first-round bye. How important would that be to this group?
BB: We’re just going to do the best we can to go out and play as well as we can against the Jets. That’s all we can do. So, whatever happens after that, happens. Can’t control it. We can control how we play this week and do the best we can.
Q: Brian Flores talked on Monday about working with Jason McCourty and his preparation and how detailed his notebook is. What’s it been like working with Jason in his first year here and what have you noticed about his preparation?
BB: Yeah, Jason’s been great. He, again, missed the spring, went to training camp, and then at the end of training camp, really when we were a little light there at safety – you know, Pat [Chung] missed a couple weeks, Jordan [Richards] was gone, Nate [Ebner] was working through some stuff – so he ended up playing safety. So, he’s played outside, he’s played safety, he’s played inside in the nickel spot, as well as playing multiple roles in the kicking game. So, we’ve added a lot to his responsibilities. He’s very, very professional, well-prepared, dependable, mature, takes every part of his job very seriously – run force, pass coverage, zone, safety, corner, special teams, whatever it is. I think his leadership, his communication, his professionalism has been outstanding. Been great to work with. Couldn’t ask for any more.
Q: In which ways has Rob Gronkowski helped this offense that might not show up on the stat sheet?
BB: Well, there’s a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. What shows up on the stat sheet for us is wins and losses, not the individual stats. So, that’s everybody doing what they need to do on each play as consistently, as often as possible.
Q: So, he’s done a good job with a selfless approach this season?
BB: Yeah, Rob’s a great team player. I don’t think that’s ever been an issue.
Q: Earlier you talked about moving parts in their offense. Darnold himself is a mobile quarterback, though it seems he runs more out of necessity. How is he different from a guy like Josh Allen?
BB: Yeah, Allen ran a lot more than Darnold has, but Darnold’s a big, athletic kid. He can certainly move if he has to. He can get out and escape the rush. He’s done that plenty of times. He has a solid skillset, no question about it – good arm, can make all the throws, big, strong kid, hard to get down in the pocket, has good feet, can get out if he needs to. Again, his thing isn’t the take off and run, but if he had to run, he can run. You know, he had a big quarterback sneak for them in the game on the fourth-and-1 against Green Bay, made a nice play on that, took it off to the side, saw a gap there, made about 3 or 4 yards on it. So, I’m sure he can do any of those plays they need him to do, and maybe at this point they might call him to do more of those. I don’t know.
Q: You have said that the offense isn’t designed to go to one player and you’re going to call the plays that you’re going to call. But how much do you have to emphasize to your coordinators that if something is working, don’t overthink it? For example, if they can’t stop the run, just keep running it. There’s no need to worry about run-pass balance if something is working.
BB: Well, I think there’s a balance there. I mean, I don’t think you can keep running the same play over and over again in this league and win. Other teams are too well-coached, their players are too experienced. You might be able to repeat concepts and maybe make the play look different but it’s the same concept. There’s merit in that. And there’s merit in repeating plays, but I think to a point. I just don’t think you can sit there and run the same play 20 times in a row in this league. I mean, it’s not high school. I don’t think that’s going to work. So, a lot of times you try to find different ways to do the same thing – make it look different, disguise it a little bit or have something complementary off it so that the defense has to defend more than one thing.
Q: When it comes to blocked punts, Matthew Slater credited Nate Ebner as well as the coaches for coming up with the idea for what they did on that play. How critical have those two guys been in working together and not just helping their teammates, but maybe helping their coaches at times, too?
BB: Yeah, they both do a great job. They have a real good understanding of what we’re doing and then they also are able to see what our opponents are doing, what scheme they’re using, whether it’s a protection scheme or a blocking patter in the return game or maybe a coverage pattern for our return game. So, they give a lot of valuable information on that. Brandon King is another experienced guy that’s done that for us, too, and others. I know [Ramon] Humber, [Albert] McClellan and obviously Chung, those other guys that we use in the kicking game, as well, Rex [Burkhead], James Develin. But, those guys that are experienced that can give you that kind of feedback, a lot of times the kicking game, especially on the punt team, punt return team, a lot of that’s based on calls. So, hearing what they’re calling, understanding what they’re doing can be helpful. And when you’re trying to sort it all out in terms of who’s blocking, who’s in the return the game and that type of thing, especially when there’s a lot of touchbacks involved like there are in kickoffs and kickoff returns, sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s blocking who when you’re on the sideline or even if you’re looking at it on film. But, sometimes the players can tell because they can see the guy is looking at him, even though he doesn’t block him. You can’t tell from the sideline or on film who he’s looking at, but if the individual player knows, ‘This guy is the guy who’s going to block me, and then OK, this guy is going to block him,’ and that kind of thing. So, they do a good job of that. They have very good awareness. You know, Joe [Judge] and Cam [Achord] coach those guys well. They’re aware of what, like I said, not only what we’re doing, but also what our opponents are doing and how they do it. Sometimes, it can be one of two things, this or that, and if we can figure out which one of those it is, then that’s a big jump, as opposed to not knowing which one it is. Again, teams don’t have 10 punt protections. They don’t have 10 kickoff returns. It boils down to a couple simple things, maybe with an adjustment or two off it, and that’s being able to recognize that and identify it. They do an excellent job of that. So, yeah, it’s a big help.